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Could You Survive Being Struck by Lightning?

Being struck by lightning is like a horrible version of winning the lottery: It's probably never going to happen, but if it does, it could be life-changing. Like winning the lottery, getting struck by lightning is one of the go-to standards for describing how unlikely something is—we've all had a parent tell us "You're more likely to be struck by lightning than..." But how unlikely is it, and what would be the result?

Lightning is beautiful, scary, and less predictable that you might hope. But just how unlikely is getting struck by it? The odds against a direct hit are pretty good—around 1/12,000 if you live until you're 80—but not as reassuring as you might hope. Lightning is also six times more likely to kill American men than American women, and we don't really know why. Knowledge is your best weapon against lightning, so here's an introduction to what we do know.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Every second, lightning strikes about 100 times around the world. 00:04

  2. If you survive being struck by lightning, here's what to expect: 01:53

  3. Being struck by lightning is not something many doctors are prepared to treat. 03:09

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Lightning is more likely to strike metal because lightning bolts are just long strings of fast-flowing electrons looking for the easiest path from point A to point B, and no material provides an easier path than metal. 00:00

  2. A metal suit protects you during a thunderstorm for the same reason it attracts lightning bolts: electrons glide so easily over metal that they barely penetrate the surface, so whatever is inside of a metal container stays safe. Physicists call this a Faraday cage, or in the case of the steel-woven clothing worn by linemen working on high-voltage wires, a Faraday suit. 00:34

  3. If you do find yourself in a field during a thunderstorm and can't head indoors, the best thing to do is crouch low and keep your feet together. This makes the electrons travel through your legs -- an inefficient path they're unlikely to travel. Even if they do travel up one leg, they'll travel back down the other, helping them miss vital organs. 01:23

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Men are six times more likely to be struck by lightning. 00:19

  2. The best protection from lightning is in a steel-frame building. 01:10

  3. It's safe to touch and provide aid to someone who has been struck by lightning. 01:57

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